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Trials suggest it can liberate jobless people, says the Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty
In a speck of a village deep in the Finnish countryside, a man gets money for free. Each month, almost 560 (500) is dropped into his bank account, with no strings attached. The cash is his to use as he wants. Who is his benefactor? The Helsinki government. The prelude to a thriller, perhaps, or some reality TV. But Juha Jrvinens story is ultimately more exciting. He is a human lab rat in an experiment that could help to shape the future of the west.
Last Christmas, Jrvinen was selected by the state as one of 2,000 unemployed people for a trial of universal basic income. You may have heard of UBI, or the policy of literally giving people money for nothing. Its an idea that lights up the brains of both radical leftists John McDonnell and Bernie Sanders and Silicon Valley plutocrats such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. And in the long slump that has followed the banking crash, it is one of the few alternatives put forward that doesnt taste like a reheat.
Yet hardly anyone knows what it might actually look like. For all the fuss, Finland is the first European country to launch a major dry run. It is not the purists UBI which would give everyone, even billionaires, a monthly sum. Nor will Finland publish any results until the two-year pilot is over at the end of 2018. In the meantime, we rely on the testimony of participants such as Jrvinen. Which is why I have to fly to Helsinki, then drive the five hours to meet him.
Ask Jrvinen what difference money for nothing has made to his life, and you are marched over to his workshop. Inside is film-making equipment, a blackboard on which is scrawled plans for an artists version of Airbnb, and an entire little room where he makes shaman drums that sell for up to 900. All this while helping to bring up six children. All those free euros have driven him to work harder than ever.
None of this would have been possible before he received UBI. Until this year, Jrvinen was on dole money; the Finnish equivalent of the jobcentre was always on his case about job applications and training. Ideas flow out of Jrvinen as easily as water from a tap, yet he could exercise none of his initiative for fear of arousing bureaucratic scrutiny.
In one talked-about case last year, an unemployed Finn called Christian was caught carving and selling wooden guitar plectrums. It was more pastime than business, earning him a little more than 2,000 in a year. But the sum was not what angered the authorities, it was the thought that each plectrum had taken up time that could have been spent on official hoop-jumping.
Venezuela is Latin Americas baseball powerhouse. Even Chvez used to play. But the economic meltdown is squeezing the countrys national sport
Juan Gutirrez can tell something is wrong with baseball in Venezuela every time his team, the Caracas Lions, takes the field.
The Lions have won the championship 20 times since the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League was founded in 1945. But in a city of 2 million, only a handful bother to attend Lions games.
We used to have a lot of fans in the stadium, said Gutirrez, a relief pitcher, as he sat in the Lions dugout before a recent home game. But because of the situation in Venezuela right now, not that many people can come. Its really sad.
Venezuelas economic meltdown, which has produced shortages of food and medicine, near hyperinflation, and a rise in crime, is now squeezing the countrys national sport.
Rising ticket prices, falling incomes and the fear of getting mugged while leaving ballparks after dark have reduced attendance by about half for the Lions and the other seven teams in the league. Due to government exchange controls, baseball clubs are struggling to secure the US dollars to import bats and gloves and sign overseas talent. The collapse of the bolvar, the national currency, means that many Venezuelan players earn the equivalent of just $300 a month.
The situation is so dire that league officials considered cancelling the 2017-18 season which runs from October to January. It was only saved after the state-run oil company stepped in with a $10m lifeline.
When we play and the games are broadcast on TV and radio that inspires kids to take up baseball. We create baseball fever. Thats the most important thing we do, said Juan Jos vila, the leagues president.
Parliament is to be given a take-it-or leave-it vote on the final Brexit deal before the UK leaves the EU.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said the terms of the UK’s exit, such as money, citizen rights and any transition must become law via a new Act of Parliament.
Labour welcomed a “climbdown” but some MPs warned of a “sham” if ministers could not be asked to renegotiate.
Sources have told the BBC some Tory rebels were unimpressed, with one saying the promise was “meaningless”.
BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the announcement was significant because it represented a big concession to potential Tory rebels and Labour MPs at a highly important moment in the Brexit process.
It comes as MPs prepare to debate key Brexit legislation later this week with the government facing possible defeat on aspects of the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will convert EU law into UK law.
The UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, irrespective of whether MPs back or reject the terms of the deal negotiated by Theresa May’s government.
But updating MPs on the sixth round of talks which concluded on Friday, Mr Davis told MPs they would still play a major role and “there cannot be any doubt that Parliament will be intimately involved at every stage”.
The government had previously agreed to give MPs and peers a vote on a Commons motion relating to the final Brexit deal – before it has been voted upon by the European Parliament.
By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor
A confident government wouldn’t have conceded like this the day before the Brexit debate was due to come back to the Commons in earnest.
This climbdown does not remotely mean that other grievances over the existing Brexit legislation will disappear.
It doesn’t mean that the next few weeks will suddenly become plain sailing. And if there isn’t a withdrawal deal with the rest of the EU, well, then there can’t be a bill that covers the withdrawal bill.
It’s only in the coming days that the government will know if they have done enough to get the existing plans through.
And the move also of course adds to a massive load of complicated Parliamentary business that has to be cleared before we actually leave.
Mr Davis said he still “intended and expected” this to happen but went further – agreeing to Labour and Tory MPs’ demands for any vote to take place on substantive primary legislation, which would allow MPs and peers to amend the bill before it became law.
The bill, he told MPs, would contain the contents of the withdrawal agreement that the UK hopes to seal in time ahead of its scheduled departure and all key aspects of it – such as the financial settlement between the two sides, the future status of UK and EU citizens and the terms of any implementation period.
“This means that Parliament will be given time to scrutinise, debate and vote on the final deal we strike with the EU,” he said, adding that it was not clear when such a bill would be published.
Labour’s Keir Starmer said it was a “significant climbdown from a weak government on the verge of defeat”.
“With less than 24 hours before they had to defend their flawed bill to Parliament, they have finally backed down,” the shadow Brexit secretary said.
“However, like everything with this government, the devil will be in the detail.”
Labour’s Chris Leslie said what “could have been a very welcome concession instead looks like a sham that pretends to respect the sovereignty of Parliament but falls well short of what is required”.
The Lib Dems reiterated their call for the final deal to be put to a referendum while several Tory MPs questioned what would happen if a deal was only agreed at the last minute before the 29 March deadline – a scenario Mr Davis has suggested was conceivable – and MPs could only vote after exit.
Dominic Grieve, the Conservative former Attorney General, said this would not be acceptable and if time ran out then negotiations with the EU should be extended “so all parties are able to deal with it”.
And Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach pressed Mr Davis to reassure MPs how “if the bill intended to ensure a meaningful vote only comes forward after that date, the vote is in any sense meaningful”.
Mr Davis responded by saying MPs would have the opportunity to say “either you want the deal or you don’t want it” and if the UK and EU could not agree a deal, there would be no legislation.
But, in a meeting with the Conservative chief whip, a group of about a dozen Tory MPs expressed anger at the government’s plans, sources have told the BBC.
One of the MPs, Anna Soubry, said the idea of a Brexit Act of Parliament was “‘insulting… it sounds in theory very good but there’s no guarantee”.
She suggested that the promise was “meaningless” and that the government is in “grave difficulty” over passing its Brexit legislation in the coming months.
Washington (CNN)A federal appeals court handed the Trump administration a partial victory Monday, granting its emergency request to allow parts of its latest travel ban to go into effect while the appeal is pending.
The 9th Circuit panel is set to hear oral arguments on the case on December 6.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January banning foreign nationals from specific Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States, but the restrictions have been tied up in the legal system and have since been revised multiple times.
In October, a federal judge in Hawaii blocked the third iteration of the travel ban one day before it was scheduled to take effect.
At the time, Judge Derrick Watson said it “plainly discriminates based on nationality.”
The ban targeted foreign nationals from eight countries — Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen — with varying levels of restrictions.
The second version of the travel ban, issued in March, had barred residents of six Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
If you thought this was just an American problem, you’re wrong. In at least 17 other countries, fake news “played an important role” in recent elections, according to a new report from democracy watchdog Freedom House.
In a deeply divided Kenya, false reports labeled with CNN and BBC logos spread across Facebook and WhatsApp leading up to the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta. Nicolas Maduro’s power grab in Venezuela involved the government spreading false footage and lies about protesters on social media. And Facebook suspended 30,000 fake accounts only 10 days before the French presidential election.
And that’s only the countries that were holding elections. Fake news was spread in 30 of the 65 countries examined in the report, which focused on the period between June 2016 and May 2017.
“It’s a trend that we’ve seen growing around the world,” Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net report,said.“In most cases, it’s the government who’s behind it.”
That’s true in countries ruled by autocratic regimes, such as China, Iran, and Myanmar. But it’s also a problem in democracies.
In the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged roving death squads, a member of the country’s “keyboard army” can earn $10 a day praising the administration online, according to the report. And an estimated 75,000 “Peñabots” have swarmed opposition on Twitter to defend Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, often flooding hashtags with irrelevant information to drown out opposition.
Fake video clips and news stories alone are a problem — but paired with an army of bots and paid commenters to spread and endorse them, they become an extremely potent force for spreading government propaganda, Kelly said.
Precise ad targeting makes the problem worse. It ensures that those most vulnerable to nationalist and xenophobic content are able to see it.
And while Google, Snopes, newspapers, and other online resources exist to help people in the U.S. debunk fake news, plenty of Americans still fall for it.
Now imagine you didn’t know about those resources. Imagine your entire experience on the internet was a single social network, and nothing but that social network.
Well, in the aftermath of Trump’s election, we should be worried about more than just net neutrality. Facebook’s slow, underwhelming response to fake news is even more troublesome considering it’s claimed to have brought “more than 25 million people online who otherwise would not be.”
That’s a lot of people who depend on Facebook for information.
“Right now, for people who are first going online in the developing world, social media is the internet,” Kelly said.
“Right now, for people who are first going online in the developing world, social media is the internet”
So if Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Russia’s VKontakte, and other social media platforms don’t try to stamp out fake news, there’s not much to stop bad actors from trying to sway elections in the developing world.
To make things worse, governments are using the threat of “fake news” (hello, Donald Trump) as an excuse to crack down on free speech. Ukraine was a victim of Russian dezinformatsiya, ordisinformation, long before it hit American shores.
Moscow wanted to sow division in the country after protesters spoke out against Ukraine’s pro-Putin leader. That escalated into bloodshed after Russia annexed Crimea and armed pro-Russian separatists. So it’s understandable Ukraine wanted to crack down on fake news, but its solution was to ban a number of social media sites and search engines entirely.
That explains why Ukraine — along with Egypt and Turkey — saw the biggest decline in internet freedom, according to the report.
It’s not an easy problem for governments to fix. Do nothing, and trolls could help rip your country apart. Do too much, and you could threaten the values of the liberal democracy you’re trying to protect.
To protect internet freedom and democracy, tech companies are going to have to step up in a big way. For starters, Kelly said, they could shut down bots and disclose who buys political ads, something Facebook has moved toward under increasing scrutiny.
Governments can help by educating citizens about how to spot fake news. School systems can look to Italy, which is teaching high school students how to do just that, for inspiration.
If tech companies and governments can’t stop the spread of fake news, the results could be catastrophic. Just take a look at who’s in the White House.
The revelation in 2012 that Carr had used a Jersey-based tax shelter attracted criticism from then-Prime Minister David Cameron.
It led to the comedian saying he had made “a terrible error of judgement”.
The leaked documents held by offshore law firm Appleby show how the three Mrs Brown’s Boys stars put their fees from a production company owned by Brendan O’Carroll, the creator and star of the show and real-life father of Fiona Delany, in companies they controlled in Mauritius.
Mr O’Carroll said neither he nor his companies have been involved in a tax avoidance scheme or structure and the actors’ wages were paid into a UK company bank account.
Mr O’Carroll’s production company is registered at accountant Mr Lyness’s office in Oldbury in the West Midlands.
Mr Lyness said he was “bound by client confidentiality as well as duties under the Data Protection Act not to divulge confidential information concerning my clients’ financial affairs”.
Mr O’Carroll plays Irish matriarch Agnes Brown in Mrs Brown’s Boys. Patrick Houlihan is one of the boys – Dermot. Fiona Delany stars as Mr Houlihan’s nurse wife Maria, and her real-life husband, Mr Delany, stars as Trevor Brown, the youngest son.
The sitcom started life as a radio show on RTE 2FM in the Irish Republic and became a worldwide hit after being turned into a TV series by the BBC and RTE in 2011. There is also a successful stage show which tours the world.
A film, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, came out in 2014, and the show’s Christmas specials are among the UK’s top-viewed festive programmes.
The Paradise Papers documents suggest the actors’ fees from their work connected to Mrs Brown’s Boys was sent offshore to avoid income tax and national insurance.
Brendan O’Carroll’s production company pays a UK-based company for the actors’ work
the UK company transfers the money to a trust set up in Mauritius by Appleby
the actors were self-employed contractors for the trust, which took a 12.5% cut of their fees, before transferring the money into three companies in Mauritius
the actors each had effective control over the companies
they took on the role of investment advisers, “recommending” their earnings be sent back to their personal bank accounts in the form of loans
the loans had been structured to avoid triggering rules brought in by the UK government to prevent similar schemes from operating – with the money paid into the accounts through a third party.
Documents for the 2014-15 financial year show Martin Delany’s offshore company received £448,095 and Fiona Delany’s received £448,168.
No figures are available for Paddy Houlihan, as his company’s accounts for that period are not in the data.
But a spreadsheet for the next financial year shows in December 2015 Mr Houlihan’s company had assets of £696,349, Fiona Delany’s £715,122, and Martin Delany’s £725,030.
Accelerated payment notices
In official guidance issued in 2016, HMRC said it would investigate and challenge such practices.
“Scheme promoters will tell you that the payment is non-taxable because it’s a loan, and doesn’t count as income,” it said.
“In reality, you don’t pay the loan back, so it’s no different to normal income and is taxable.
“So if you’re using one of these schemes and being paid this way you’re highly likely to be avoiding tax.”
HMRC has the power to send people using these sorts of schemes “accelerated payment notices” – which require them to repay the tax immediately, while their case is investigated.
Told of the type of scheme being used by the Mrs Brown’s Boys stars, MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: “If it’s not outside the actual rules it’s certainly… way outside the spirit of the rules.”
She added: “A decade ago perhaps it wasn’t so much in the public domain, but now I don’t think anybody with any sense would be just taking the advice of a tax adviser without asking certain questions… That’s just common sense… these people ought to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves whether it’s really fair what they’re doing.”
The papers are a huge batch of leaked documents mostly from offshore law firm Appleby, along with corporate registries in 19 tax jurisdictions, which reveal the financial dealings of politicians, celebrities, corporate giants and business leaders.
Luisa Ortega fled Venezuela after breaking with the president this year, and says her complaint was prompted by thousands of deaths ordered by the government
Venezuelas sacked former chief prosecutor has asked the international criminal court to capture and try Nicols Maduro and other top officials for crimes against humanity over murders by police and military officers.
Luisa Ortega, who broke with Maduro this year after working closely with the ruling Socialist party for a decade, was fired in August after she opposed Maduros plan to create an all-powerful legislature called the constituent assembly. She fled the country and has traveled the world denouncing alleged acts of corruption and violations of human rights.
Ortega said her complaint, filed on Wednesday with the Hague-based tribunal, was prompted by some 8,290 deaths between 2015 and 2017 at the hands of officials who received instructions from the government.
[They happened] under the orders of the executive branch, as part of a social cleansing plan carried out by the government, she told reporters in the Hague.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.
The Maduro government accused Ortega of turning a blind eye to violence by opposition supporters, and has also leveled a number of corruption charges at her.
Ortegas request also makes reference to killings that took place during police raids known as Operations to Free the People, which have been heavily criticized by human rights groups since they began in 2015.
Nicols Maduro and his government must pay for this, she said.
The complaint also accuses top officials such as the defense minister,, Vladimir Padrino and intelligence chief, Gustavo Gonzlez, of involvement in the alleged abuses.
Ortegas critics say she was closely allied with Maduros efforts to crack down on dissent and, before her break with him, had helped jail opposition leaders on trumped-up charges.
Maduros government insists it respects human rights and says opposition demonstrations were Washington-backed efforts to violently overthrow him.
Venezuelas government and opposition agreed on Wednesday to a new round of foreign-mediated talks in the Dominican Republic on 1 December.
Mr Sargeant, who was married and had two children, was found dead at his home in Connah’s Quay, Flintshire, on Tuesday morning.
He was sacked from his Welsh Government job after allegations about his behaviour were passed to First Minister Carwyn Jones’ office.
Mr Jones had said on Monday he felt he had no choice but to refer the matter to the party. Mr Sargeant had vowed to clear his name.
The Welsh Assembly’s business for Tuesday was cancelled as a mark of respect following his death, and meetings on Wednesday and Thursday will also not take place.
In a statement Mr Sargeant’s family said: “Carl was a much loved husband, father and friend.
“He wasn’t simply a part of our family. He was the glue that bound us together.
“He was the most kind and caring husband, father, son and friend. We are devastated beyond words, and we know our grief will be shared by all those who knew and loved him.”
Analysis by Vaughan Roderick, BBC Welsh affairs editor
The Senedd, in the wake of the death of former Welsh Government minister Carl Sargeant, is a place in shock.
I do not remember an atmosphere anything like this.
There is, among some senior Labour figures, a growing sense of concern and anger at the process where the government or the Labour Party appear not to have exercised their duty of care over Mr Sargeant after he faced accusations about his behaviour.
There are people who spoke to Mr Sargeant on Tuesday morning who were told that he still did not know what the allegations were.
Carwyn Jones’s future could be on the line here. This is a trauma that could become a political crisis unless he comes up with the answers that Labour AMs in particular want to hear.
Paying tribute, the first minister said: “Carl was a friend as well as a colleague and I am shocked and deeply saddened by his death.
“He made a big contribution to Welsh public life and fought tirelessly for those he represented both as a minister and as a local assembly member.”
The prime minister’s spokesman said in relation to the “sad news” about the death of Carl Sargeant, that Theresa May’s “heart goes out to Carl Sargeant’s friends and family”.
Mr Corbyn said the AM was “somebody who represented our party” and “worked hard to represent his communities”.
The Labour leader said that all allegations must be examined and pursued but added: “There must also be great pastoral care and support given to everybody involved in these accusations, and also that we deal with them, all parties, as quickly as possible.”
Speaking through tears, former local government minister Leighton Andrews told BBC Radio Wales: “Carl Sargeant was loved. He was loved across the political divide. He was loved by the people in his own community.
“Carl was a unique politician. He arrived in the assembly from the factory floor. He grew up and still lived in the council estate that helped shape his roots in Connah’s Quay – he was still very much part of that community.
“My understanding is that Carl was still not aware of the detail of the allegations against him even though, I’m told, this morning.”
Former Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said Mr Sargeant “clearly felt he had been found guilty before he had a chance to defend himself.
“So I think we need to develop a system which is fair to everybody, which defends everybody, but doesn’t place people in a position where they feel they have no opportunity whatsoever to fight their cause.”
Tributes were paid across the political divide on Tuesday.
Conservative Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news, adding: “My heart goes out to his family, friends and colleagues.”
Elin Jones, assembly presiding officer, said Mr Sargeant “served the people of Alyn and Deeside with pride and determination” and that he had made an “enormous contribution to the development of this democratic institution”.
Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: “Our Parliament has lost a stalwart and many of us have lost a friend.”
Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said: “Carl Sargeant made a significant contribution to Welsh politics, both as an assembly member and a government minister.”
UKIP Wales leader Neil Hamilton described him as a “gentle giant” who would be “missed across the party divide”.
Liberal Democrat Kirsty Williams, who was a colleague of Mr Sargeant’s in the Welsh Government, said: “Not only was Carl a dedicated local AM, but he was an effective government minister who had a significant impact across political life at a national and community level.”
FC Nomads, the Connah’s Quay football team that Mr Sargeant was president of, cancelled all games this weekend in a mark of respect.
North Wales Police Supt Mark Pierce said police were called at about 11:30 GMT on Tuesday to a report that a man’s body had been found at an address in Connah’s Quay.
“The man has been formally identified as local AM Carl Sargeant. His next of kin have been informed and police are supporting the family,” he said.
“North Wales Police are not treating his death as suspicious and the matter has been referred to HM Coroner.”
Governments in Venezuela, the Philippines, Turkey and elsewhere use social media to influence elections, drive agendas and counter critics, says report
The governments of 30 countries around the globe are using armies of so called opinion shapers to meddle in elections, advance anti-democratic agendas and repress their citizens, a new report shows.
Unlike widely reported Russian attempts to influence foreign elections, most of the offending countries use the internet to manipulate opinion domestically, says US NGO Freedom House.
Manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year, damaging citizens ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate, the US government-funded charity said. Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad, as with Russias disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe, in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power.
Even in those countries that didnt have elections in the last year, social media manipulation was still frequent. Of the 65 countries surveyed, 30, including Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey, were found to be using armies of opinion shapers to spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media, according to Freedom Houses new Freedom on the Net report. In each of the 30 countries it found strong indications that individuals are paid to distort the digital information landscape in the governments favour, without acknowledging sponsorship.
That number has risen every year since the first report in 2009. In 2016, just 23 countries were found to be using the same sort of pro-government astroturfing (a fake grassroots movement). Recently the practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated, with bots, propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social media and search algorithms to ensure high visibility and seamless integration with trusted content, the report says.
The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating By bolstering the false perception that most citizens stand with them, authorities are able to justify crackdowns on the political opposition and advance anti-democratic changes to laws and institutions without a proper debate.
The report describes the varied forms this manipulation takes. In the Philippines, it is manifested as a keyboard army paid $10 a day to operate fake social media accounts, which supported Rodrigo Duterte in the run-up to his election last year, and backed his crackdown on the drug trade this year. Turkeys ruling party enlisted 6,000 people to manipulate discussions, drive agendas and counter opponents. The government of Sudans approach is more direct: a unit within the countrys intelligence service created fake accounts to fabricate support for government policies and denounce critical journalists.
Governments are now using social media to suppress dissent and advance an anti-democratic agenda, said Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project. Not only is this manipulation difficult to detect, it is more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because its dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it.
The fabrication of grassroots support for government policies on social media creates a closed loop in which the regime essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside, Kelly said.